SciPo Interim event with TORCH: The Science of the Seas – 3rd September 2020

SciPo is an annual meeting of scientists and poets to explore the creative common ground between poetry. This year we decided to run an interim event online to tide us over until less challenging times. My thanks must extend to Nikki Carter who supported this meeting admirably by helping with the administration and ensuring the technology worked smoothly on the night.

I was thrilled to launch a poetry competition aligned to this event and based on the ‘science of the seas’ theme. The standard of the entries was incredibly high.

We were lucky enough to have Jo Bell spearheading our line-up for this event and it was wonderful to hear how and why Jo writes her words. Jo was the inaugural Canal Laureate for the Canal & River Trust and The Poetry Society. She read her influential poem Doggerland and other work relevant to the theme of water. Her reading of poetry from Kei Miller’s Forward prize winning collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion will live long in my memory.

Our plenary session continued some amazing readings by Elsa Hammond and Sarah Watkinson. Elsa told us about her experiences, as a non-scientist, of doing citizen science and engaging with microplastics while in isolation on the ocean a few years ago. This challenging period provided some vivid material for her poetry.  Sarah introduced the notion of the oceans meaning the great unknown, excitement, poetry of voyages and discovery. New ideas and new understanding, both of the self and of the world, are produced when we reflect on the seas. She shared Marianne Moore’s The Jellyfish and her own Explaining Elephants. Here, each poet shared their own experiences of working at the margin between science and poetry. I introduced myself as a practising research chemist who loves to write about the natural world. I appealed to the poetry community to collaborate with scientists in an effort to fully capture the beauty we observe all around us. Marine environments feature a vast array of organisms and varying conditions of temperature, pressure and salinity. This world presents a fantastic place for poetry.

The discussion was thought provoking and exhilarating. We covered topics like integration of scientific language into poems, the panel’s motivation and inspirations plus the endless power of water to inspire. I thank Jo Bell for her kind contributions to this part of the event.

The event featured stunning readings from the event’s competition winner, Dr Lesley Saunders (for Palinurus) and the runner-up Eveline Pye (for Mother of the Sea). The open mic session also featured one of the commended poems (Pond Liner, by Katharina Dixon-Ward) and a range of other high-quality offerings.

Overall, the attendees greatly enjoyed the evening of poetry. I am deeply grateful to TORCH and everyone who took part or helped behind the scenes. Special thanks goes to Lucy Newlyn who judged the poetry competition with great skill and dedication.

The SciPo project, founded by Jenny Lewis and Sarah Watkinson, and this year’s event organised by Stephen Wren, Senior lecturer at Kingston University, continued our traditions of probing new territory. A new poetry anthology is planned which will be edited by Elsa Hammond.

Stephen Wren was educated at Cambridge and worked as a chemist in industry for many years. He transitioned back into academia at Oxford (St Hilda’s College) before joining Kingston University in September 2018. Stephen recently organised the online ‘science of the seas’ event for SciPo and writes words based on science, people and faith.

scipo sea